Correction, 10:50pm: We have updated the number of positive tests at Woodland Pond in New Paltz.
This is a roundup of coronavirus news and announcements from New York State and Hudson Valley and Catskills counties for Saturday, October 24 through Monday, October 26.
NEW YORK STATE
496,655 cases confirmed (1,191 new)
13,834,240 tests performed (82,117 new)
Positive test rate: 1.45%
25,742 deaths (12 new)
237 ICU admissions
New York State coronavirus page
New York State official pressroom
Hotline: (888) 364-3065
The White House has apparently given up on the idea of controlling COVID-19. On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the Trump administration has essentially thrown in the towel on trying to control infections, and is focusing on medical advances instead. “We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas,” Meadows said.
While top Trump officials cede defeat and infections climb to new heights, New York State continues to work at keeping statewide numbers low and squashing regional flare-ups with a strategy Governor Andrew Cuomo called “COVID Whac-A-Mole” in a Monday briefing. “You can’t eliminate it, but you can control it,” Cuomo said. “You have to control it. Otherwise too many people are going to die.”
Cuomo wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News on Sunday outlining the state’s current “battle plan” against COVID-19: Ramping up testing in emerging hotspots and focusing restrictions tightly on neighborhoods where outbreaks are flaring up. “Monitoring micro-clusters involves increasing the testing regimen to identify low-level spreads on a small geographic footprint. This allows containment before a large number of people are infected and reduces the economic and political disruption in implementing new restrictions,” the governor wrote.
In Sunday’s state numbers on outbreaks in Brooklyn, Queens, the Hudson Valley’s Rockland and Orange counties, and the Southern Tier’s Broome, Steuben, and Chemung counties, the overall positivity rate in the microclusters was 3.25 percent. In some areas, the rate was much higher: Rockland’s microcluster, where positivity rates had fallen below four percent in recent days, shot back up to 8.53 percent in Sunday’s data. Positivity rates in the microclusters in Broome County (7.77 percent) and Chemung County (9.85 percent) were also troublingly high.
Throughout most of the state, hospitalizations are still far below where they were in the spring, but in the Southern Tier, which fared better than most of the state early on, outbreaks have pushed hospitalizations over 100 in the past week, about three times higher than they were in the region during the spring peak.
Two large prison outbreaks have emerged in New York State in recent weeks: one in the Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, the other in the Elmira Correctional Facility, inside the Chemung County microcluster zone. The worst of the state’s prison COVID-19 problems is at Elmira, where more than 550 inmates—over a quarter of the prison’s population—have tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, in response to a reporter asking how the state had allowed the Elmira outbreak to get so bad, Cuomo said that the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision was doing a “fantastic job” with COVID-19. Top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa said that the state prison system has tested 70 percent of inmates, and the rest will be completed by November.
The outbreaks have put a public spotlight on New York State’s prison system, even as the state has decreased public visibility into prison conditions by locking down visitation at the most affected facilities. CNHI’s Joe Mahoney reports that the state Department of Health does not have oversight of medical care and infection protocols in state prisons; the state legislature has passed a bill to give state health officials more oversight, but Cuomo has yet to sign it into law. Assembly health committee chair Richard Gottfried says the outbreaks have given the bill new urgency: “We have a constitutional obligation to protect the health of the people we have in custody.”
On Friday, the New York State Department of Health issued guidance halting most visitation in residential facilities in red zones, and implementing new visitation restrictions in orange zones, effective Sunday at 3pm.
Just across the New Jersey border, a steep case spike in Newark has prompted state and local officials to reimpose a curfew, and more local lockdowns may follow if numbers keep rising. “We have to do whatever we need to do to drop those numbers now,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said on Monday. “It seems desperate, but it’s a desperate moment. We got through this before, so we’ll get through it again.”
The state is partnering with several fashion designers on limited-edition masks to raise funds for several COVID-19 relief funds.
LOWER HUDSON VALLEY
County coronavirus pages: Rockland, Westchester, Putnam
University coronavirus pages: Sarah Lawrence, Iona, SUNY Purchase, Manhattanville, Westchester Community College, Rockland Community College, Dominican, Mercy
Westchester County recently purchased 11 AMBUstat decontamination systems for ambulances with federal CARES funding, County Executive George Latimer announced in Monday’s COVID-19 briefing. New York State Senator Pete Harckham, who worked with county and municipal officials to secure the funding for the systems, was on hand to explain how the sanitizing foggers will help local ambulance crews. “An entire rig can be done in about 40 minutes,” Harckham said. “It will make life easier, particularly as we get into the winter months and they may face an increase in calls.”
Active cases in Westchester County have risen steadily over the past four or five weeks, Latimer said in Monday’s briefing. The county currently has 1,201 known active cases, up from 605 at the beginning of October.
Westchester County is offering free help in multiple languages to individuals and small businesses who need assistance enrolling or renewing their health coverage through New York’s health care marketplace. The open enrollment period begins November 1 for new applicants, and November 16 for returning applicants.
County coronavirus pages: Orange, Dutchess, Ulster, Columbia
University coronavirus page: Bard, Vassar, Marist, SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Columbia-Greene Community College, SUNY Orange
Ulster County reported 53 new cases over the past three days, including 28 on Sunday, when the county’s positive test rate jumped to 5.3 percent. The spike is driven largely by an outbreak at Woodland Pond, a retirement community in New Paltz where 15 people have so far tested positive. The facility has suspended all visitation. Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan told the Daily Freeman that Woodland Pond had not had a positive case before this outbreak, so the county is ensuring that the results are accurate. Ryan attributed the rest of the new cases to pandemic fatigue. “Increasingly, there’s a set of people who just down want to do what they are being asked to do anymore,” he said. “That results in consequences.”
The New Paltz school district delayed the start of in-person instruction by at least a week. In a letter posted to the district website, Superintendent Angela Urbina Medina wrote that new education department guidelines regarding teachers who work with students with disabilities has changed the district’s ability to safely reopen schools. The new guidance mandates that such teachers be on-site when students are in schools, rather than teaching remotely. That change “has unraveled schedules that had been put in place for [this] week,” Medina wrote. “It will require new discussions with our teachers, union leadership, district physician and attorney.”
A faculty member at Mount Marion Elementary School in Saugerties tested positive for COVID-19, and a Morse Elementary School student was displaying symptoms, according to a Friday letter from Superintendent Kirk Reinhardt. And in Columbia County, all schools in the Ichabod Crane Central School District were closed to in-person instruction Monday after a positive COVID-19 case was found in the primary school.
Two SUNY New Paltz employees tested positive for COVID-19, according to the university’s most recent dashboard update, bringing its total number of active cases to five.
In a Monday briefing on Facebook, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said that he wants New York State officials to redraw maps of the Kiryas Joel microcluster to exclude the North Main Elementary School in Monroe, which is located in a yellow zone. The Times Herald-Record reported last week that State Senator James Skoufis is also advocating for the school, which has opted to go remote rather than incur the cost of mandatory testing imposed on schools in the yellow zone. “Everybody knows it’s a totally different cultural situation down there. I don’t know why the North Main school should be held hostage,” Neuhaus said.
Another death from COVID-19 was reported Monday in Delaware County, the ninth fatality among the county’s 157 positive cases so far during the pandemic. The county currently has 15 known active cases, four of whom are hospitalized.
New York State officials have allowed movie theaters to reopen in Greene County despite infections that have pushed the county’s positivity rate past the two percent upper limit set by Governor Cuomo for theater reopening, the Daily Mail reports. On Monday, county legislative chair Patrick Linger was told by state officials from the Capital Region Control Room and Empire State Development that the state had agreed to treat the prison outbreak at Greene Correctional Facility separately from the rest of the county, bringing the county’s positivity rate below the two percent threshold. Staff cases from the prison have been linked to infections in the Greenville Central School District and a nursing home in Columbia County, the paper reports.
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